Pitch Perfect: Top 3 Tips to Cut Through the Clutter

Recently, Newsweek’s Zach Schonfeld challenged himself to read and reply to every PR email he received for an entire week. We would all agree that ‘mission: inbox zero’ is a valiant effort for anyone on any given day, let alone seven days … in a row. But for a reporter at Newsweek – a staple of American media for more than 80 years – the task is downright colossal. Replace Zach’s inbox with that of any reporter with a searchable email address and you start to understand the common practice of ‘mass deletion’ by journalists.

As you read Zach’s piece, broken out day-by-day with detail on the types of pitches he received, the pangs of unease hit you like a Floyd Mayweather jab to the body. Zach covers culture and entertainment, with a bit of breaking news. It’s painfully obvious that many of the pitches sent to him were untargeted, at best.

We all miss the mark sometimes with a pitch. However, this experiment from Zach begs many questions. How can you make sure your pitch emails get to the right person? How can your pitch stand out from the crowd? What can you do to elicit a response (ideally, interest) from a journalist? Here are my top three tips for targeting your pitches so they land in the right place and compel the reader:

  1. Do your homework: Your media list is pulled. That’s it, right? Wrong. Once you have a list of potential target journalists, it is critical to comb through each reporter, what they cover (this means Googling and reading their articles, not just reading a media database profile) and understand how they like to be pitched. Yes, it’s labor intensive. Media lists can include hundreds of contacts. However, devoting time to this effort on the front end ensures that your list is targeted to people who might actually care about your news … increasing your chances for coverage today and in the future.
  2. Tailor your pitches: How many angles does your news have? I’ve found that any given pitch can usually be approached from at least two angles. Should you pitch local transportation reporters and environmental bloggers? Perhaps your news is relevant only to automotive media. If so, can you target your messages to product reviewers and manufacturing editors? This isn’t an edict to develop four variations of a press release, but you might want to take a step back and consider the many ways you can tailor the news in your pitch emails and subject lines. Tailoring also includes addressing your email to the journalist by name. If you’re thorough you’ll know whether Robert goes by Bob. According to a recent PRWeek survey, “lack of personalization is the key reason why journalists immediately reject pitches.” The devil is in the details.
  3. Make your news meaningful: Unless you’re Apple, there’s a strong chance that you’ve issued a press release or sent a pitch that didn’t result in coverage. Maybe you neglected my first and second tips, but another culprit could be that you didn’t make your news meaningful. As communicators and liaisons to the media for our spokespersons, we should be consuming an exorbitant amount of news. Find a hook that you can leverage for your announcement. Can you tie your news to election season or an annual study? Maybe you can localize a ‘hot’ national trend story. If yes, do it! It will bolster your offering to a reporter and make you (or your client) an even more attractive source to journalists.

To be sure, carrying out these tips requires commitment. These aren’t quick tasks that you can put off until the last minute. There are no short cuts. Diligence, planning and a zeal for finding that needle in a haystack are required. If you’re anything like me, Zach’s recount of his week-long experiment gave you the cold sweats. So before hitting send on your next pitch email I urge you to ask yourself, “Would I care about this email if it were sent to me?” If the answer is no, rethink your game plan.

Karah Davenport is a media maven and vice president in Stratacomm’s Detroit office.

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